It was an easy trap, the one the Skipjacks fell prey to yesterday.
A holiday afternoon home game against the league's worst team was almost surely two points for the taking. Show up, play hard and move back into a tie for first place in the AHL's Southern Divison.
But the Capital District Islanders were wise to the Jacks' plan and put a little something extra into their New Year's Day afternoon skate.
"They played a perfect, conservative, defensive hockey game," said Jacks coach Robbie Laird after his team skated to a 3-3 tie with the baby Isles. "It's certainly not what we wanted, but a point [in the standings] is a point. Give them all of the credit -- they earned their point."
Indeed, the frisky Islanders (13-19-6) defended their goal with a precision game plan.
"We played right into their hands," said center Tim Taylor, who had a goal and an assist. "They wanted a quiet, boring game with a lot of chipping and holding and we let them play it."
The seesaw battle saw the Jacks take leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but eventually the lumbering style of the Isles caught the Jacks napping as Dennis Vaske beat goalie Olaf Kolzig from the point with an unexpected slap shot, his second goal of the game, to knot the score with 6:50 left in regulation.
In overtime, the game became more physical and Jeff Greenlaw's retaliatory check drew blood from Islanders right wing Paul Guay at 1:14 of the overtime period, giving the visitors what appeared to be an extra man for the remainder of the game.
However, referee Dennis LaRue evened up the sides 1:46 later when Brad Dalgarno was called for interfering with Kolzig after a shot.
"Once Jeff got the call we were forced to play for the tie," Laird said. "You want to remain aggressive if the opportunity arises, but [we] couldn't generate very much offense."
That was the problem the entire afternoon.
The Jacks (21-16-2) -- the most productive team in the AHL coming in, averaging 4.26 goals -- managed just four shots in the third period and 19 for the game.
"We realized early that they were putting four men on the blue line as we entered the zone," said center Reggie Savage. "They were checking us well when we tried to go in and the defensemen were getting time to get back and get rid of the puck. We never got to set up any plays."
Although the dump and chase has been effective previously for the Jacks, who are now in second place, yesterday the offensive speed never surfaced.
"It's hard to believe when you're out on the ice that this team is in last place," Taylor said. "They sure haven't looked like a bad team to us."
The Washington Capitals lost three forwards -- Peter Zezel, Mike Ridley and Peter Bondra -- to injuries of varying degrees during yesterday's 4-3 win over New Jersey.
The Jacks and the Caps both play again at home on Friday, and it is a possibility that a player or two could be recalled.
The Caps already are carrying three extra forwards, but general manager David Poile hinted during yesterday's TV broadcast on HTS that Savage could be recalled soon.